Say the word “Louisville” and the first thought that comes into peoples’ minds is the Kentucky Derby — but Louisville is so much more than the most popular two minutes in sports. It’s a vibrant, thriving city that’s full of great food, amazing attractions and a local flair that will definitely make you want to come back for a second or third visit (and not even during Derby).
Grab your calendar and pick out a weekend — we’ve mapped out how you should spend 48 hours in Louisville.
First things first, let’s get a little Louisville knowledge and history out of the way. Let’s talk about how you say “Louisville.” It’s not Louey-ville or Lewisville; it’s Loo-ah-vul. That is how we say it.
Louisville sits on the edge of the Mason-Dixon line — the Ohio River — so it is a unique blend of North and South with a Midwestern layer iced over the top of it. There is a strong Southern sensibility here: You can taste it in the cooking, hear it in the accents and feel it in the extreme hospitality and friendliness. But the weather and the climate reveals its Northern geographic situation — this city definitely has four distinct seasons with a cold snowy winter, a crisp and damp autumn, a hot humid summer and a rainy temperamental spring. The Midwestern layer appears in the practicality of the people in Louisville with their humble natures. You might be sitting next to a very nondescript, casually dressed gentleman who happens to own a Derby-winning horse or run a major bourbon distillery here in town. That’s a normal occurrence here.
Weather is a big factor here. Louisvillians stay outside as long as they possibly can, knowing that the winter weather brings everyone inside. So, if possible when you are here, walk everywhere, eat outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
It’s important to visit Louisville intentionally and see what the Louisvillians love to do here. We love our horses, our bourbon and our people; Louisvillians are proud of all their assets and thrilled to show them to their guests. At last, here’s how to spend a weekend in Louisville.
48 Hours in Louisville
Check in to your hotel at 21c Museum Hotel on historic Main Street in Downtown Louisville and be sure to take a spin around the hotel lobby with its constantly changing art exhibitions. Head to their renowned restaurant, Proof on Main, for a great lunch. We highly recommend the ricotta dip as a starter before your lunch. You will need to get some nourishment now, as you are about to have a big afternoon!
Walk out the door from the hotel onto Main Street, which is the historic center of Downtown Louisville. Just a couple of blocks away is the famous bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum, which reaches sky high, leaning on the building next to it. There are many wonderful attractions to visit on Main Street, including the Frazier History Museum, KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft) Museum, the Kentucky Science Center and more.
But it is important to educate yourself on the most popular thing to come out of Kentucky: bourbon. There are opportunities to visit the distilleries that are all less than an hour away from Louisville but why drive down there when you can walk to four of them right on Main Street: Evan Williams Experience, Angel’s Envy and, opening soon, Old Forester and Michter’s. These are all experiences that offer life-lessons and you will never look at bourbon the same again. If you wonder why Kentuckians are so snobby about their bourbon, you will learn why when you visit these distilleries.
Take a break and walk off your bourbon by heading to the river, which is about a block away. You’ll see the century-old steamboat the Belle of Louisville, as well as the Muhammad Ali Center, which faces the river.
For dinner, go to Lilly’s Bistro, home of award-winning chef Kathy Cary. Her menu is a comprehensive list of the best of the best of locally sourced, seasonal foods. We always recommend the special of the evening but you can’t go wrong with the chicken pot pie if it’s on the menu — it’s a crowd favorite.
Head back to the hotel where you will find your bed turned down and fresh chocolate chip cookies awaiting you.
Another full day awaits, so head over to Wild Eggs downtown for a big, satisfying breakfast. Be prepared to wait, as this is such a popular place for breakfast that they have four locations around town, all of them constantly crowded. You’ll see why after you get huge plates of eggs made in just about every form or fashion. Bring your appetite, as the portions are huge and so delicious.
Head over to the newly renovated Speed Art Museum, located in the heart of the University of Louisville. Be sure to look around carefully on your way there as you drive through one of the oldest areas of town, Old Louisville, which has the most number of Victorian mansions in the nation. The Speed Art Museum dates back to 1920 and still has the original building adjacent to the brand new glass building that was unveiled back in March. The Speed has a stunning collection with a strong presence of local art and artists throughout the museum.
Right down the road is Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. If you come visit and there is a meet going on, by all means, buy a general admission ticket and catch a few races. The beauty of the track is that you can stay all day or stay for a couple of races. Though you are probably still full from your huge breakfast, if you are hungry, this a great place to have a snack or a little something to tide you over until dinner. (SB Tip: Do not order a Mint Julep unless it’s Derby Day. Louisvillians don’t drink juleps year-round, only on Derby weekend. You’ll have “tourist” written all over you.) Be sure to stop by the Kentucky Derby Museum next door, which is an excellent homage to all things Derby.
Take all your winnings from the track and save them for the big dinner you are going to have at a Louisville favorite Jack Fry’s. This is a “blink and you’ll miss it” restaurant located in the heart of the Highlands, right on Bardstown Road. Everything you order will be outstanding but you must order the shrimp and grits as an appetizer for the table. After your delicious dinner, take a stroll down Bardstown Road, where there are a multitude of bars (lots of Irish ones) and great people-watching.
Up and at ’em! Go grab a cup of coffee and a light breakfast at Please and Thank You in NuLu. Be sure to buy some chocolate chip cookies to go and buy more than one — trust us on this one; they are the best in town. Be sure and admire the great selection of vinyl at this coffee shop; they are known as much for their music collection as they are for their coffee and food.
Nothing opens until noon, so now is a great time to go to the Big Four Pedestrian Walking Bridge and walk over the Ohio River to Jeffersonville, Indiana. It’s a lovely walk and a great view from both sides.
When you get back from the walk, head back to NuLu and to the great brunch at Garage Bar. You cannot miss this place — there are two wrecked cars on the front patio of this former service station. Look for great brunch options, such as breakfast pizzas, beignets and awesome brunch cocktails. After brunch, check out some of the local shops, making sure to stop at Revelry Boutique Gallery and Scout on Market. If you have a spare minute before you head out of town, you are not far from Butchertown Market, which is home to such great local shops Work the Metal, Moss Hill Bath and Body Collection and Cellar Door Chocolates. Here you can pick up a gift to bring back home to your friends and family, telling them about your great Kentucky weekend.
You’ll leave this fair city full and happy, we promise. We hope to see you in the Bluegrass State real soon!
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